Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Saying No to the Blue Chippers?

Mercer celebrates after beating Duke.

  Not long after Duke lost to Mercer last Friday, a question popped into my head:

  How long until longtime winning coaches (Coach K, in this case) forego recruiting players who are destined to depart their programs after one measly season?

  How long until they decide they want to invest in a player for three to four years again, instead of eight short months?

  The next day, Syracuse lost to Dayton. Followed by Kansas losing to a junior/senior-led Stanford team.

  All longtime winners. All top-tier seeds, loaded with young stars destined for NBA stardom. All losing (early) in the NCAA Tournament on an increasingly regular basis, to teams with more-experienced, older (gasp!) players.

Cinderella No More
  Conversations of March Madness past always centered on the Cinderella story. A mid-major or small school upsetting the top dog, and going on a small run in the tournament. One or two Cinderella stories were destined to happened every couple of years.

  The conversation, then, shifted to this: would Cinderella ever win it all? When the question was first posed, I didn't think it could ever happen. There was no way a no name program would ever string together six wins in a row against the competition that the NCAA Tournament boasted.

Cinderella came up short in the Final two straight years.
  Then Butler University made two consecutive trips to the NCAA Final in 2010 and 2011. And seemingly, every year after, 'small' senior-led teams were making a considerable amount of noise come tournament time.

  It's becoming more common with each passing year for the highly touted, legendary programs to lose to small(er) programs with less-touted players on a regular basis in the NCAA Tournament.

  Whether it's Cinderella or a lesser-touted, senior-laden team, those schools have one thing in common: experience.

Experience Wins Out
  From the jump this March Madness 'season', it was clear -- to me -- that the more experienced teams (Virginia, Florida, Michigan State) were the ones to beat. For the record, Michigan State is my pick to win it all.

  Experienced teams hold several advantages over young, star-studded teams: team cohesiveness, maturity, understanding of each other and their offensive/defensive systems, trust in one another... I could go on and on.

On to the Sweet 16 -- second Round win at Colorado.
Buffalo Example
  It was no different with my Colorado teams in college. My freshman year, we had a sophomore and freshman filled roster. We took our lumps, and lost more games than we won that season.

  Fast forward two years, and that same roster advanced to the Elite Eight.

  Nothing changed over the course of those two years. Not our players, not our plays, not our coaches. What did change was us.

  We grew up, we learned how to compete on the collegiate level, we learned how to play with each other, we knew how to prepare for big games, and we knew how to beat teams that appeared to be better than us on paper.

  Nothing prepares a player like previous experience.

Who Are You Recruiting?
  My attention, then, turns to those who make the decisions, the coaches: who do you want on your team? Who are you recruiting?

  At the end of the day, what is the point of college basketball? To win games? To make money? To recruit the top players? To recruit the best players for your program?

  Money, over time, has become the ruler. For the college programs, and for the players. The lure of huge NBA contracts have driven the players to leave college early on a regular basis. And attracting top-tier talent brings prestige, media coverage, and with that, money, to the program and university.

  In my opinion, both the college and the NBA game have suffered since the 'one and done' rule came into effect in 2006.

Recruiting the Blue Chippers
  Drawing the top name recruits each and every season is always beneficial to a college program. You can't deny that.

  Top recruits attract other top talent, they draw fans, it's glamorous, and you would think it would result in a lot of championships. But at an alarming rate, those top ranked recruits are becoming 'one and doners'; playing the NBA-required one season post-high school, and then leaving college early for the NBA.

  So in reality, recruiting those highly touted prospects is resulting in a lot of roster turn-over, freshman and sophomore filled rosters, and inconsistent performances in the Big Dance.

  It's grown to be beneficial in every way but the one department that really matters: winning in March.

  How long until coaches start to take note?